BME Student Wins Healthcare Prize


By Mark Dwortzan

George Daaboul
PhD student George Daaboul (BME) with fast, user-friendly pathogen detection platform (IRIS) he’s helping to develop.

The Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) has named PhD student George Daaboul (BME) winner of the 2011 CIMIT Prize in Primary Healthcare, which provides seed funding to engineering students to develop innovative technologies aimed at improving healthcare delivery at the frontlines of medicine.

The designation comes with $150,000 to advance Daaboul’s research project, a diagnostic platform that can perform a multi-pathogen test that’s rapid and easy enough to be used at the point of care. The technology could enable physicians to quickly pinpoint viral infections and reduce unnecessary antiviral and antibiotic usage.

“The prize money will allow me to apply the technology where I believe it will have the most impact on healthcare delivery,” said Daaboul. “My initial goal will be to establish a universal detection platform for infectious disease diagnostics, and demonstrate it with influenza and other viruses.”

Daaboul edged out nine other finalists from Yale, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Texas A&M, the University of California, Berkeley, Kansas State University and Northeastern University.

“We are delighted with the quality of the entries this prize competition has elicited each year amongst engineering students,” said Ronald Newbower, cofounder of CIMIT and director of the competition. “The winners of our major awards are headed toward truly significant careers and may well serve as role models for others in their field.”

To develop the diagnostic platform, known as the interferometric reflectance imaging sensor (IRIS), Daaboul is advancing sensor and microfluidics technology in collaboration with his advisor, Professor Selim Ünlü (BME, ECE, MSE), and a team of multidisciplinary researchers. The team is advancing a new method that enables detection of single viral particles with far more sensitivity and specificity than existing detection methods and could enable clinicians to isolate individual virus particles of interest.

“George’s work is a stellar example of innovative and multidisciplinary thinking in a broad collaboration with medical and international researchers,” said Ünlü. “His research will have a significant impact in viral diagnostics by advancing the technology beyond the state-of-the-art while making it inexpensive and widely accessible.”

CIMIT, a consortium of Boston-area teaching hospitals and universities, fielded applications for the Primary Healthcare prize from 33 engineering programs nationally.